When I was a kid, I often messed this up. In crowded shops, in other people's houses, things I'd pick up furtively would slip from my fingers. Strangers' possessions were like foreign objects that didn't fit comfortably in my hands. They would tremble faintly, asserting their independence, and before I knew it they'd come alive and fall to the ground. The point of contact, which was intrinsically morally wrong, seemed to be rejecting me. And in the distance there was always the tower. Just a silhouette floating in the mist like some ancient daydream. But I don't make mistakes like that these days. And naturally I don't see the tower either.
In front of me a man in his early sixties was walking towards the platform, in a black coat with a silver suitcase in his right hand. Of all the passengers here, I was sure he was the richest. His coat was Brunello Cucinelli, and so was his suit. His Berluti shoes, probably made to order, did not show even the slightest scuffmarks. His wealth was obvious to everyone around him. The silver watch peeping out from the cuff on his left wrist was a Rolex Datejust. Since he wasn't used to taking the bullet train by himself, he was having some trouble buying a ticket. He stooped forward, his thick fingers hovering over the vending machine uncertainly like revolting caterpillars. At that moment I saw his wallet in the left front pocket of his jacket.
Keeping my distance, I got on the escalator, got off at a leisurely pace. With a newspaper in my hand, I stood behind him as he waited for the train. My heart was beating a little fast. I knew the position of all the security cameras on this platform. Since I only had a platform ticket, I had to finish the job before he boarded the train. Blocking the view of the people to my right with my back, I folded the paper as I switched it to my left hand. Then I lowered it slowly to create a shield and slipped my right index and middle fingers into his coat pocket. The fluorescent light glinted faintly off the button on his cuff, sliding at the edge of my vision. I breathed in gently and held it, pinched the corner of the wallet and pulled it out. A quiver ran from my fingertips to my shoulder and a warm sensation gradually spread throughout my body. I felt like I was standing in a void, as though with the countless intersecting lines of vision of all those people, not one was directed at me. Maintaining the fragile contact between my fingers and the wallet, I sandwiched it in the folded newspaper. Then I transferred the paper to my right hand and put it in the inside pocket of my own coat. Little by little I breathed out, conscious of my temperature rising even more. I checked my surroundings, only my eyes moving. My fingers still held the tension of touching a forbidden object, the numbness of entering someone's personal space. A trickle of sweat ran down my back. I took out my cell phone and pretended to check my email as I walked away.
I went back to the ticket gate and down the gray stairs towards the Marunouchi line. Suddenly one of my eyes blurred, and all the people moving around me seemed to shimmer, their silhouettes distorted. When I reached the platform I spotted a man in a black suit out of the corner of my eye. I located his wallet by the slight bulge in the right back pocket of his trousers. From his appearance and demeanor I judged him to be a successful male companion at a ladies-only club. He was looking quizzically at his phone, his slender fingers moving busily over the keys. I got on the train with him, reading the flow of the crowd, and positioned myself behind him in the muggy carriage. When humans' nerves detect big and small stimuli at the same time, they ignore the smaller one. On this section of track there are two large curves where the train shakes violently. The office worker behind me was reading an evening paper, folded up small, and the two middle-aged women on my right were gossiping about someone and laughing raucously. The only one who wasn't simply traveling was me. I turned the back of my hand towards the man and took hold of his wallet with two fingers. The other passengers formed a wall around me on two sides. Two threads at the corner of his pocket were frayed and twisted, forming elegant spirals like snakes. As the train swayed I pushed my chest close to him as though leaning against his back and then pulled the wallet out vertically. The tight pressure inside me leaked into the air, I breathed out and a reassuring warmth flowed through my body. Without moving I checked the atmosphere in the carriage, but nothing seemed out of order. There was no way I would make a mistake in a simple job like this. At the next station I got off and walked away, hunching my shoulders like someone feeling the cold.
Excerpted from The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura. Copyright © 2012 by Fuminori Nakamura. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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